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Post-ToC interview with Team Type 1's Phil Southerland

For Team Type 1 co-founder and professional cyclist Phil Southerland was faced with many unknowns  before starting the 2009 Amgen Tour of California. Not only had he never raced at this level but as a Type 1 diabetic, he had never put his body through this high intensity 8-day of racing. 

In our conversation a few weeks prior to the race, the 27-year old Southerland stated that the team was ready for its first participation at the race. "For me, I've never raced at that level and caliber. My teammates that have done the Giro d'Italia, the Tour de France have told me how hard of a race this is going to be so I don't know but I feel that I've done the training, I've been smart about... I've made the sacrifices. At least, I'll be able to look back no matter what happens and say I put my one hundred percent effort towards it and that's what we can do."

But it was a tough one. The hard racing and the weather conditions took their toll on a suffering Southerland, when faced with worsening tendonitis, pulled out of the race on stage 4. The next day, under sunny skies  (finally!), we sat down for a quick chat where  he answered my questions about his experience at the big show. One thing to note is that not only is Southerland planning on returning to the race but he is not deterred in his focus of bringing his team to the Tour de France in a few years.

How hard was it? What was the impact of the bad weather?
: It was tough the first day, tough the second day, tough the third day and that's just the riding. Then the weather, it was cold, wet, a million layers of clothing. It was just brutal in all aspects but also the racing was an experience of a lifetime for me. I got to  chat with some of the best racers in the world, that's pretty damn cool. Now when I come back and bump elbows with the best in the world in the last kilometers in the race, I'll be a little bit more of a fighter than a survivor. The weather definitely took an impact. We were taping plastic  wrap around our ankles over our shoes, I think I taped it too tight on this ankle  which caused some tendonitis in the top of my foot and after the first day it was bothering me, taped again on the second day, it was really bothering me. Taped again the third day and I had to get it cut off early in the third stage and then on the third stage it moved up to my knee and so my ankle and knee were a bit tweaked. I made it  through the third day but the fourth day, twisted and turned, I just felt like a very inefficient machine when I was out there pedaling.

So you starting taping on the first stage?
: Yes first stage. I've done some pretty cool training rides, cold and wet but that was long, it was harsh, we were just shivering out there. You look around and everyone is just … their bodies are shaking, you burn so much energy when you are shivering like that, it's crazy.

Was the speed and the racing as hard as you thought it would be or was it even harder? Were you ready for this?
: I wasn't ready for the speed that they went uphill. The flats, I was pretty good on, I was comfortable in the group when we were on flat roads, even in the crosswinds, it was tough but manageable. But the speed that these guys climb at was completely new to me and just something I had not experienced and if have not experienced, you can't really prepare for it. So, Vassili was in the car to see where I was struggling I told both directeurs so they are going to help me on training so I can get better where I'm weak. This is my first time at this dance but not my last.

So you are coming back.
: (emphatically) I am coming back.

Did your body react the way you expected?
I needed far less insulin quicker than I thought. I was doing 19 units of Lantus the night before the prologue which is about average for me. After the first day, I was down to 14 units, the second day, 12 and the third day I was down to 11 which is a pretty rapid drop. I was never doing more than 3 units of insulin at any breakfast or dinner period which is I was eating a lot of calories at both so I was just cutting my insulin doses down significantly which took a little while, a few meals to adjust to but I was in the habit, in the pattern then I was out of the race.  I had to go back to a new pattern.

Phil Southerland (Team Type 1) crossing the finish line after a hard stage 3.

So was that drop in insulin units expected?
: Everything was kind of new to me here. I was expecting that it was going to drop, but that much that fast I wasn't quite anticipating that.

Was does it mean when it drops that fast? What is your body doing at that point?
: It just means that  my body is burning food for me. The body is burning it naturally, my metabolism is higher, needing less insulin to get into the muscles. I think that my body might just be inefficient at that intensity, at that high metabolism. I think if I would have gone to day 5, 6 or 7, I might  have needed more insulin but at this point, I don't know. We'll find out next time.

What's the best memory?
: A lot of great memories. At 20 kilometers out stage 3, mind you I had dropped on Sierra and it took 30k of chasing to get back to the group and as I'm coming through the cars, Lance had stopped to stretch by the side of the road and I'm like 'son of a gun, there he is doing a quadriceps stretch'. Two of his teammates  dropped back and he came by and said 'hop on buddy' and I hopped on and two Astana guys and him pulled me back to the field and right to the front. That right there was cool. And then, I felt good  for the rest of that stage, I'd been eating well and with 20k to go, I was like 'if they bunch up at all with 10k or less to go, I'm attacking', granted they didn't bunch up and it was kind of new to me that instead of doing 30, 31.. 32, 35 miles an hour, so the option to attack didn't really come but I was thinking about doing it which lets me know that I can be here, and so was a pretty good moment, finishing that stage with the group was enjoyable.

What was your lowest moment? Was it when you had to pull out?
: On stage 3, when I got popped so early, I realized that I might riding 130 kilometers by myself to get to the finish which I was prepared to do thinking 'this is going to be a long time by myself'', that was tough then I got back on and that memory went away.  Pulling out was definitely hard. I really wish that my body could have been one hundred percent so I could have seen how far I could have gone with a functional body. My body not being used to those kinds of demands and pressure, it's going to have to get used to that if it's going to make it 21 days in a few years.

What's next for you?
: I've got a few days of rest, let some of this racing sink off. Then I'm off to Tour of Taiwan early March, that's a seven-day race this year.

Is there a lot of climbing?
: It's flat over there. There's one stage. Last year, where I was worried about the hilly stage, this year I think that's a stage where I can contend for the win. That's a climb that's one kilometer long, I've been climbing longer climbs  with some of the best in the world. I know I can make it one K and I can go pretty quick for one kilometer, maybe two up those climbs. Hopefully, we'll have a good showing and beat our second place from last year. Take the win, a couple stages. We've got a busy year, this is the first race of the year for us, we want to go on a tirade and win a bunch.

Given that you have a lot of other responsibilities with the team, do you think you have enough time to train for these races?
It's a lifestyle. It requires giving up a lot of other stuff.

Do you do anything else?
: (laughs) I'll have a cold beer with my friends now and then because you have to live, you have to enjoy life but for me to go to bed at 9 o'clock. I'm not 21 years old anymore, trying to experience the world.

But you're not old.
: I know that I'm not old. But I know that to be good at these races, I have to make sacrifices, I have to go to bed early. Running the business, I've got 520 emails in the past 10 days from fans around the world saying what an inspiration the team is, and how great they think it is. I plan to get back to every single one of those emails to thank them and see if I can help them in any way.  That's the part of my volunteer work so to speak. Cycling is number one because if I'm good at cycling that will allow me to spread the message even further. I've got a good team around me, Sean Weide, Vassili Davidenko, Gord Fraser, Tom Schuler, they have taken a huge load off my shoulders and make it easy for me to focus on being a bike racer.